Celtics

Celtics confidence bodes well for success down the road

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Celtics confidence bodes well for success down the road

OAKLAND, Calif. –  Losers in five of their last six games, it would be understandable for the Boston Celtics to be extremely concerned about the direction of their team.

And yet following their 109-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, there was nothing but optimism pouring out of the Celtics locker room from both coaches and players.

"The last three games are more of who we want to be,” said coach Brad Stevens.

Even though Boston lost two of those three games, there were indeed a number of positives they can extrapolate from those games.

The two losses were by a combined five points, with the Celtics in position down the stretch to win both of them.

But they failed to make the necessary plays at either end of the floor in the closing moments, that were needed in order to get the win.

More than anything, Boston sees the first three games of this four-game road trip, as another opportunity to learn about themselves and even more important, how to operate more consistently as an elite team which their record this season suggests that they are.

Boston (34-16) has the best record in the Eastern Conference, leading the Toronto Raptors by 1.5 games and the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers by 5.5 games.  

Kyrie Irving is well-versed in how to navigate effectively in hotly contested road games like the one we saw at Oracle Arena on Saturday night.

Irving’s late-game jumper a couple years ago when he played for Cleveland, lifted the Cavaliers past Golden State for Cleveland’s first NBA title.

But that Cleveland team had a decent number of been-there, done-that veterans who not only understood the moment, but beyond that had a high level of confidence and experience in how to best handle marquee matchups.

While Boston’s young core has played well thus far this season, beating a team like Golden State on their building, whether it’s the playoffs or a regular season tilt, is not easily done.

At one point, Irving looked on the floor and saw Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis – three rookies and a second year player – who are still learning how to be impactful players not only against the best teams in the league, but also in a more general sense.

“They’re just thrown into high level, one-seed versus one-seed, type of battle,” Irving said. “It demands everything from you mentally. You have to bring it; you’re going against the champs. Being in Oracle, they go on their runs. Steph is being unbelievable, the crowd is going crazy. It’s a lot to consider. For us we take it as a learning experience. I told them before the game, ‘just take advantage of the opportunity and stick together and weather the storm.’ They’re an incredible team. We’re a developing young team trying to be great as well. You just have to have that confidence.”

And that confidence comes about with learning from all experiences, good and bad.

“As a group we want to win these games,” said Boston’s Al Horford.  “But for our group it’s more about making sure we’re playing well and we keep improving throughout the season. I felt we took a step forward even though we lost.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Have Celtics solved their second-quarter problem?

Have Celtics solved their second-quarter problem?

Let’s face it.

The second quarter has been a major problem for the Celtics this season.

And then there’s Friday night in a 110-98 victory in Detroit, where the Celtics outscored the Pistons 38-21 in the second to take control of the game.

The 38 points tied a season-high for second-quarter scoring and the +17 scoring margin in the quarter was their best in a second quarter this season.

Boston’s point differential for the season speaks to how, while the Celtics don’t score a ton of points, their defense allows them to have a bit of a scoring cushion most nights.

For the season, Boston’s point differential of +3.7 ranks fourth in the league behind Houston (+8.9), Toronto (+8.3) and Golden State (+8.1).

Still, if you hone in on what the Celtics do in the second quarter...it’s not pretty.

Their scoring differential this season in the second quarter is -1.1, which ranks in the bottom 10 in the NBA (24th specifically).

Here are five under-the-radar storylines you might not be thinking about heading into tonight’s game between the Celtics and Knicks as they close out their regular-season series (Boston leads, 2-1):

EXCLUSIVE CLUB


With the victory in Detroit, the Celtics won their 20th road game of the season. The victory puts them in select company in the NBA. Only Golden State (22-7) and Houston (21-7) have more road wins or a better road record than the Celtics (20-8).

ARON BAYNES


Seeing Aron Baynes head to the bench and soon after towards the locker room with an elbow injury was not a good look. Following the win at Detroit, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Baynes had not been ruled out from playing tonight. Boston has been atop the NBA most of this season defensively and the play of Baynes has been critical to that success. Prior to the Pistons game, Boston’s defensive rating when Baynes was on the floor was 96.4. When he was not playing, it ballooned to 103.5.

MICHAEL BEASLEY


You always have to be on guard when Beasley’s in the building. While his season numbers may suggest he’s a role player coming off the bench who can maybe score a little, don’t be fooled. Beasley is a cold-blooded scoring assassin who can kill a defense with his wide array of scoring techniques. The Celtics saw this up close earlier this season when Beasley dropped a season-high 32 points the Knicks' 102-93 victory over Boston on Dec. 21.

FEBRUARY STRUGGLES


Boston can’t wait to flip the calendar and get on to March, because February has been brutal for the defense. In the four previous months this season, Boston’s defensive rating always ranked among the top-10 each month. But in February, Boston’s defensive rating of 108.6 currently ranks 16th in the NBA. There’s still time to improve upon that before the month is over, but February is likely to go down as Boston’s worst month defensively this season.

CELTICS-KNICKS HISTORY


When it comes to history, Boston and New York share more than just being among the original teams when the NBA formed in 1946 (In 1946, the NBA had a different name, the Basketball Association of America. Following its third season, the BAA would merge with the National Basketball League to form what is now known as the NBA). They are also the only teams from the league’s inception that did not disband for a period of time, or move to another city.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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